Victims of the 2012 legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Quebec City that killed 14 people and affected 167 others have reached an agreement in principle with defendants in a class action lawsuit.
The tentative deal was announced in court Monday, with a judge sealing details, including the negotiated compensation for victims, until a later date.
The lawsuit targeted regional and provincial health authorities as well as a labour federation that was allegedly responsible for maintaining a cooling tower atop its Quebec City offices that was confirmed as the source of the outbreak.
Lead plaintiff Solange Allen, whose husband died of pneumonia connected to the outbreak, told reporters she was glad to avoid the trauma of going to trial in two weeks.
“My husband, the first day he fell ill, the whole ordeal, the day he died – which was a week later – to relive everything, I hoped there would be no trial,” Allen said.
Her lawyer, Jean-Pierre Menard, said in an interview details of the compensation would be explained to plaintiffs at an assembly Monday night and “they will be satisfied because we got a very, very good ruling.”
Menard said the lawsuit accused health authorities in Quebec City of failing in their duties, including not informing the public about the seriousness of the outbreak and not acting quickly to stop the spread of the disease.
Luc de la Sablonniere, a lawyer representing the regional health authority, said an agreement in principle was reached but, “there are a few elements to include, but the essential elements are there.”
He called the deal “fair and just” and added, “there is absolutely no admission of responsibility in the agreement on the part of our clients.”
From July 12 to 18, 2012, the first five cases of legionnaires’ disease were reported to health authorities from hospitals around the Quebec City area.
It was only on Sept. 18 that the source of the outbreak – a cooling tower atop an office building in Quebec City’s lower-town area – was confirmed.
The tower was located on a building co-owned by the city and the Centrale des syndicats du Quebec labour group accused in the lawsuit of being responsible for maintaining the unit.
By Oct. 8, the outbreak had killed 14 people and affected 167 others.
Menard said he had evidence indicating regional health authorities “lost a month” in controlling the disease because they didn’t act quickly enough.
“In that period more than 150 additional people contracted the disease,” he said.
A spokesperson for Menard’s office said details of the compensation agreement will be announced publicly in October, after which it is estimated between 200 and 250 people will be registered to receive money from the defendants.
The class action initially sought $125,000 for each spouse of a deceased person, a minimum of $50,000 for each victim who contracted the disease, as well as other damages related to emotional suffering and hospital costs.
Lawyers for the labour federation as well as for Quebec’s Justice Department said they would not comment on the case.
All sides are scheduled to return to court Nov. 15 to finalize the deal.